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Psyched for science

Welches students drawn to laboratory
by: Jessica Gregg, Lab teacher "Stardust Mysteria" performs an experiment at Welches Elementary after school.

Last year, Welches Elementary student Bruce Dyal took an after-school science class and got to launch a rocket from the school's playground. Even better, he got a rocket to take home.

'It turned out really well,' said Dyal, now 9 years old and in the third grade. 'Except it got stuck in a tree.'

Dyal retrieved the rocket and didn't let the experience dampen his enthusiasm for science. This year, he signed up for the after-school class again, called 'Mad Science,' along with 29 other budding scientists from Welches Elementary.

The class is part of a program run by a Portland-based company that brings science to approximately 350 schools in the Portland region. This year, the students will study 'Crazy Chemistry' in six one-hour sessions during a series of Mondays.

At the end of the course, each student will get to take home a full set of lab ware, including a flask, a test tube and a chemistry journal with all the work they performed in class. The classes are designed to get younger students started in science in a comfortable setting.

'Colleges are not producing the numbers of scientists we need to advance technologically,' said Audrey Campbell, operations manager for Mad Science. 'Where Mad Science focuses is starting kids when they're very young and getting them to the point where they're not afraid of it.'

On the first day of Crazy Chemistry, students learned about how dry ice works and even got to freeze items, including a spoon. Future classes will explain how the pH scale works and even an event called the 'Slime Olympics.'

Thanks to the popularity of the class, students were split into two smaller groups based on grade. That's a good thing, according to Becky Fortune, who helped bring the program to the school

'It's really hard with the size of classes and budgets to do this kind of thing at the elementary level,' Fortune said. 'It gives them the chance to do a little experimenting with fewer kids in the group.'

Based on the response from the students, they agree.

'I like doing experiments,' said third-grader Ben Johansen, 9. 'It's just fun because you get to do a lot of stuff.'

As for next year, Dyal has a pretty good idea what kind of experiments he'd like to undertake.

'I would like to conduct a laser that goes on your eye, but it doesn't hurt,' Dyal said. 'It just points to a thing. It could go 300 yards, and it could work in the dark.'

For more information on Mad Science, please visit www.madscience.org.